Sunday, 27 May 2012

Voice on the radio: Take My Time (1980) - Sheena Easton

1980 was an important turning point in music in which the UK really got to grips with the growing interesting in new wave and electronic music. One of the great pioneers of this genre was the Italian producer Gorgio Moroder who had distinguished himself throughout the late 1970s with a string of hit collaborating with Donna Summer and Sparks as well as the pulsing soundtrack to Alan Parker's Midnight Express. However for me, and I am sure many others, his crowning glory was his work with a young Sheena Easton on her oft overlooked and highly impressive debut album.

Packed full of immediately hummable pop tunes are generously drenched in Moroder's complex synthesisers and drum machine, but here they work well which is more than can be said by the many imitators who were to copy her style over the next decade. The stand-out tracks are of course the hits 'Modern Girl' which has some powerful vocals and a very pleasing (if very dated) synth solo and of course her transatlantic smash 'Morning Train (9 to 5)' - which many people are surprised to find out was one of the late DJ John Peel's favourite records! Even if you haven't heard any other Easton tracks then I can guarantee that you have heard this one so often is it used in sitcoms to illustrate when a usually redundant character attempts to hold down a steady job (usually punctuated by humorous pitfalls and pratfalls).

The overriding reason that this album is so strong is through some very fine song writing and some very interesting arrangement, this record was not about pushing new boundaries, it was about delivering a strong product. Legendary song writing team Bugatti & Musker contribute a couple of tracks (including 'Modern Girl'). There is also a powerhouse rhythm section  and fantastic backing vocals grounding the album and makes for many danceable numbers which is certainly what this album was recorded for - this album is so upbeat you cannot help but smile whilst listening to it! You can almost imagine Eddie Shoestring playing during his fictitious Private Ear show on Radio West between receiving calls about wrongs doings in the Bristol area.

Of course, Easton would go on to have a number of other hits, such as 'For Your Eyes Only' (1981) from the soundtrack of the Bond film with the same name, the highly controversial 'Sugar Walls' with its infamous music video which so upset Mrs Al Gore and of course her turn in Miami Voice as Crockett's ill-fated girlfriend. However it was here, when she was fresh to the industry - as discovered by Esther Rantzen of all people  that I think she was best, that is why I am very happy to give this album a well deserved 8/10 and strongly advise that you purchase this record!

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Love's great fears: Raintown - Deacon Blue (1987)

1987 was a great time for many things including the birth of yours truly in that turbulent and blustery November, however a vintage year for music it was not. Having a look at a laughably dated compilation LP I own from that year, here are a pick of the pops from The Hits Album 7: 'Strong as Steel' - Five Star; 'Funky Town' - Pseudo Echo; 'Bridge to your heart' - Wax… need I say more. Of course there were some glimmers of light in the darklands of a market flooded by Stock, Aitken and Waterman's monotonous drum machine riffs. Albums like Prince's Sign O' The Times, Eric B & Rakim's Paid in Full and Jesus & Mary Chains's Darklands were rightly praised for their creativity in such a poor market, one such album that is often overlooked from this period and should be given some fresh recognition is the inventive and beautifully crafted Raintown by the Glaswegian group Deacon Blue.

Something of a concept album, Raintown  opens with the sombre, brooding 'Born in a Storm' making good use of echoed vocals and sparse keyboards before building to the fast paced, dramatic and forceful title track - giving an aural depiction of Scotland's second city. Most of the tracks talk of social trouble, destitution and the need for escapism in an unforgiving and harsh environment. Nowhere is this more felt than in two of the album's more successful tracks: 'Ragman' and 'Dignity'. The latter is joyously pretentious but is laden with fantastic hooks and a rising chorus. Ricky Roos has a fantastic, raspy voice which give this album so much character, even on the more slushy numbers like 'Chocolate Girl'.

Perhaps I have been a little unjust about 1987 for having listened to this offering I have since discovered that the Glasgow music scene was pretty exciting in 1987. Albums such as this one, Wet Wet Wet's debut (and only worthy) album Popped in, souled out and

Returning to the Album, my favourite track, if I was to choose one would be the tour de force, romantic ballad, 'Love's Great Fears'. The guest guitar solo from the ever reliable Chris Rea is one of the best on any album I own or have had the fortune/misfortune to listen to. Deacon Blue's great advantage was have two very strong lead vocalists (Ross and Lorraine McIintosh) and a really upbeat rhythm section. Each track on this album is interesting if not a joy to listen to, the final track on the album 'Town to be blamed' is so incredibly bleak that it would be more appropriate on one of Pink Floyd's later albums than on Raintown, in fact it almost derails the whole album - if I had been in the band's position I would have left it off. This is a mighty shame as the album, up to this end point, is so consistent and successful in balancing hard social issue in Glasgow, with more upbeat, optimistic and radio friendly material. However this is mere taste more than anything else and as the rest of the album is so good I can happily forgive it this blip.

As such I am going to give Raintown an impressive and deserved 9/10 for I feel that it both captures a very exciting time in Scotland's music scene!